Zen in the den

Is a closed toilet the path to spiritual harmony? Dallasí feng shui followers think so.

Last week my husband had an important business meeting. I wanted to make sure it went well, so before leaving for work, I walked through our house and closed the lids to all the toilets.

This wasn't some family tradition handed down through the generations. Nor was I indulging some new superstition to prevent business opportunities from going down the crapper.

No, what I was doing as I walked from bathroom to bathroom was partaking in something as time-honored and ethereal as praying toward Mecca and as grounded as the study of architecture and design. I was dabbling in feng shui (pronounced fung shway), the ancient Chinese practice of properly aligning one's environment to maximize the flow of the vital force known as ch'i (pronounced chee) or energy. The purpose of feng shui--a hybrid of art, science, and mysticism--is to create a sense of harmony in one's life that will lead to enriched personal relationships, optimal professional performance, and a general sense of well-being.

As you go about rearranging furniture, adding octagonally shaped mirrors in unlikely places to ward off bad ch'i, putting a fountain in your wealth corner to symbolize flowing riches, and cleaning out clutter like a Heloise on amphetamines, don't be surprised if your friends think you are one egg roll shy of a pu pu platter.

That's exactly what I thought when I first heard about feng shui. Several years ago, a recent transplant from California--where else?--mentioned feng shui to me. As she prattled on about balance and harmony, baguas, and ch'i, my eyes glazed over. It sounded like so much New Age balderdash.

I didn't hear much about the subject again until early this year. Then it seemed like feng shui was everywhere. Respectable magazines were writing about it. My neighborhood bookstore suddenly sprouted a section of books devoted to the subject. In January, The New York Times carried a 1,000-word article about how the new Chinese leader of Hong Kong consulted a feng shui master before choosing the precise location to house his governmental headquarters. In fact, according to The Times, feng shui is as central to Hong Kong's culture as making money. Maybe that's why the country is so damn rich.

When a bright, level-headed woman I know in Dallas decided to leave her job at an art gallery to become a feng shui consultant, my curiosity had been fully piqued. I wanted to know more about this hard-to-pronounce practice that was sweeping the country like a tsunami. How could you tell the feng shui masters from the feng phonies? Who was using this, and who should be?

God knows there are an awful lot of power mongers in Dallas who could use a little harmonizing with their environments. I thought it would be fun to take a feng shui consultant to assess the offices of some of the local rich and famous. Maybe Jerry Jones needed to realign his office instead of hiring a morals squad to bring his Cowboys into line. Perhaps the woman in his press office didn't understand what I was asking, or thought I was with the foreign press corps. In any event, she never got back to me.

Neither did Kristie Sherill, the aide de camp to our esteemed mayor. I called several times to ask for an appointment. If the city couldn't land a new downtown sports arena with the help of secret studies, illegal closed-door meetings, high-priced lobbyists, and attempts at passing state legislation, maybe it was time for a ch'i check.

I figured Dallas school superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez would welcome someone asking questions about her remodeled office space that involved something other than how much it really cost. After all, about the only thing the $90,000 renovation didn't include was the price of hiring a feng shui consultant. Well, I figured wrong. She wasn't interested.

In fact, the only luck I had was with the Dallas Mavericks. I guess they're so desperate, they'll try anything. Their spokesman thought that coach Jim Cleamons would be interested in meeting with us. Cleamons, I learned, is a pretty mystical man who doesn't wear a watch and has a fondness for aquariums, which is very feng shui. Unfortunately, Cleamons wouldn't be back from vacation in time.

I had to resort to plan B instead, watching a feng shui consultant in action as she analyzed the proper placement of office furniture in a Turtle Creek travel agency that was relocating. I also interviewed people who had employed feng shui in their homes or places of business. These were otherwise down-to-earth folks who told astonishing stories about how their personal and professional lives flourished shortly after they had their homes realigned.

There was the mechanical engineer who met the woman he eventually married just weeks after his consultation, during which he was told to remove the war-themed photographs that were hanging in his loft's marriage corner. Months after an art consultant I interviewed brought feng shui into her home, she picked up a client with a private collection who sent her on a three-week all-expense-paid trip through Europe to visit the hottest art shows.

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